“The bluffer isn’t bluffing. He means what he says”

November 29, 2011

Iranian protesters burn the Union Jack outside the British embassy in Tehran today

* An Iranian mob replaces the Union Jack at the British embassy in Iran with an Islamic flag and chants “Death to England” today.

* Former Mossad head Danny Yatom: The outcome of a strike on Iran’s nuclear sites, no matter how destructive, can never be as bad for Israel as an Iran armed with nuclear weapons.

* Former Ha’aretz editor-in-chief: “A too-frank exchange between Obama and Sarkozy, inadvertently caught on microphone, about Netanyahu being a liar has provoked distinctly negligible outrage around the world. But Obama, Sarkozy, and the rest of the world would be profoundly wrong to dismiss Netanyahu’s repeated and consistent admonitions that, in the last resort, he would bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities to prevent that nation getting the bomb... It’s not just tactics. The bluffer isn’t bluffing. Let’s hope Obama, Sarkozy and the rest are hearing him loud and clear.”

* Washington Post lead Editorial: “Obama must stop half-measures on Iran. Obama is not even leading from behind on Iran; he is simply behind.”


This is a further dispatch on Iran. Last week’s two dispatches on the subject can be read here:

* Aircraft are not the only means at Israel’s disposal

* This may be the most unsurprising sneak attack in history



1. British government condemns storming of embassy in Iran
2. “Iran strike aftermath couldn’t be as bad as nuclear Iran” (By Yaakov Lappin, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 23, 2011)
3. “World must believe Netanyahu on Iran” (By David Landau, Sydney Morning Herald, Nov. 24, 2011)
4. “How to Topple the Ayatollahs” (By Jamsheed Choksy, Wall St. Journal, Nov. 23, 2011)
5. “More half-measures from Obama on Iran” (Editorial, Washington Post, Nov. 22, 2011)


[Note by Tom Gross]

The British government called the storming of the British Embassy in Tehran today “utterly unacceptable,” and demanded that the Iranian government protect British diplomats in the country.

The mainly student protesters stormed the embassy grounds, and a diplomatic residential compound, to protest tough new sanctions on Iran by the British government.

Eyewitnesses said the protesters broke the embassy’s main gate, replaced the Union Jack at the embassy with an Islamic flag and chanted “Death to England”. They also hurled petrol bombs, stones and eggs at the embassy, smashed windows and mishandled a framed picture of Queen Elizabeth II.


I attach four articles on Iran below.

In the first, Danny Yatom, who led Israel’s Mossad spy agency in the 1990s, in effect criticizes other senior retired Israeli intelligence officials who have suggested bombing Iran’s nuclear program would be a mistake.

In the second piece below, David Landau (the former far leftist editor of Ha’aretz), writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, says that world leaders may dismiss Netanyahu as a liar, but on the Iranian nuclear question they should definitely believe him.

In the third article Jamsheed Choksy, professor of Iranian studies at Indiana University, argues that Western strikes shouldn’t only target Iran’s nuclear bomb program, but should also target Tehran’s military and paramilitary forces, in order to cripple the regime’s machinery of domestic repression.

In the fourth article, a lead editorial in The Washington Post criticizes what it calls Obama’s “half measures” on Iran.

-- Tom Gross



“Iran strike aftermath couldn’t be as bad as nuclear Iran”
By Yaakov Lappin
The Jerusalem Post
November 23, 2011

Former Mossad head Danny Yatom says Israel can’t afford to wonder if Tehran “will go crazy and throw a bomb on us,” says “painful” IDF response would stop rocket fire from Hezbollah and Hamas.

The outcome of a strike on Iran’s nuclear sites, no matter how destructive, can never be as bad for Israel as an Iran armed with nuclear weapons, former Mossad chief Danny Yatom said on Wednesday at a security conference at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.

Yatom took up a position that is diametrically opposed to that of former Mossad head Meir Dagan, who sparked significant controversy by stating earlier this year that an attack on Iran would be a foolish move that would lead to a war with an unknown outcome.

“There is a big argument over whether to attack Iran or not,” Yatom said. “The argument is legitimate. Some say Israel will pay a high price, no matter who does the attacking,” Yatom added.

“As difficult a price it may be, and even if those predicting apocalyptic results are correct – and I don’t think they are – this is still not as bad as the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb,” he argued.

Israel can’t afford to find itself in the position of having “to wake up every morning and ask, will they go crazy and throw a bomb on us or not,” Yatom said, adding, “the damage that an Iranian nuclear bomb can cause is so great.”

It is impossible to stake the nation’s security on predictions by those who claim a nuclear Iran can be deterred, and that the Iranian regime would not launch a nuclear attack, he said. Yatom acknowledged that rocket attacks would likely ensue from Lebanon and Gaza following a strike, but added that Israel’s response would be “so painful and crushing that rockets will come to an end.”

He added, “Civilian facilities and infrastructure in Lebanon and Gaza will be hit. Innocent civilians could be hurt. But the barrage of rockets will no longer be falling over our heads.”

The world does not have much time left to act on Iran, the former Mossad head warned, adding that “there is an evaluation that they crossed the red line. They have the knowledge to make the bomb. All that is needed now is the decision to do it... The world has a year, probably less.” He also doubted that sanctions would be effective.

Addressing the option of targeting Iran with covert operations, Yatom said that whether or not Israel was linked to such acts, they “won’t stop Iran. They either will have the bomb or not. I think force will have to be used. I don’t think Israel should lead. This is a world problem... [But] should the world stand on the sidelines, Israel will be fully entitled to use its natural right to self defense.”



World must believe Netanyahu on Iran
By David Landau
The Sydney Morning Herald (Opinion)
November 24, 2011

A too-frank exchange between Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy, inadvertently caught on microphone, about Benjamin Netanyahu being a liar has provoked distinctly negligible outrage around the world. Even in Israel, people tended to shrug.

Credibility is not the Prime Minister’s strong suit – witness the hollow ring of his much-trumpeted pronouncement in 2009 that he favours the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Two years have passed, and the direly needed solution has receded.

But Obama, Sarkozy, and the rest of the world would be profoundly wrong to apply the same dismissive scepticism to Netanyahu’s repeated and consistent admonitions that, in the last resort, he would bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities to prevent that nation getting the bomb. He means what he says.

He does not want to go down in history as the leader on whose watch a fanatical enemy achieved the means to cow, terrorise and threaten to destroy the Jewish state while the rest of the world stood by and Israel itself did nothing.

Many Israelis, by no means all groupies of Netanyahu, know exactly where he is coming from in this fraught and frightening saga. And they feel the same way he does. They still hope the world collectively will act to neutralise this threat, but if it doesn’t, they believe Israel must use its considerable military power.

A recent poll showed the nation split down the middle over whether Israel should act unilaterally against Iran. It did not show the even wider angst, never far beneath the surface, that keeps ordinary Israelis awake at night as they churn over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chilling threats and the ominous International Atomic Energy Agency’s reports on Iran’s nuclear program. The Iranian president, spewing forth Holocaust denial while threatening another Holocaust, has pressed all the wrong buttons on Israel’s sensitive national psyche.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem is not just the place visiting statesmen are required to visit and make appropriately sad and contrite comments. It is still, nearly 70 years on, the raw nerve of the nation, the unhealed scar.

Israel was created from the ashes of Auschwitz. Its primary mission is ‘‘never again’’. That, at any rate, is how millions of Israelis see themselves and their country. A mass subjective perspective can become objective political reality. The world needs to recognise that Netanyahu authentically articulates that perspective and that reality.

Granted, there are many opponents of it, particularly in the Israeli defence establishment. Top generals and intelligence officials stress the inevitable limits of any unilateral Israeli air strikes on Iran. The nuclear facilities are spread around the country. Some are buried deep underground.

The most Israel could achieve might be to damage Tehran’s nuclear program and delay it. But the cost could well be heavy and sustained missile attacks on Israel, not only from Iran but from its much more proximate clients: Hezbollah, the Shiite militia in Lebanon and Hamas, the radical Islamist movement that rules Gaza. Syria, too, long Iran’s ally, might seek respite from its domestic strife by joining the fray against Israel.

Iran, moreover, would doubtless lash out at US forces and shipping in the Gulf, which would immediately precipitate an oil crisis. Israel would be blamed, especially if the Iranian nuclear threat were merely deferred.

Against all that is the calculation, carefully unspoken but present nevertheless, that a unilateral Israeli strike would trigger massive American intervention against Iran’s nuclear program. This could come in response to Iranian retaliation against American targets, or because Washington would have an overwhelming interest in ‘‘finishing the job’’ that Israel began. In the post-Libya climate, France and Britain might well be moved to come in alongside the US.

Against the naysayers, too, is the calculation that goes beyond strategy, the calculation that says to an Israeli prime minister, with 3000 years of Jewish history on his shoulders, that inaction is not an option.

Netanyahu has at his side, as Defence Minister, his former army commander in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, Ehud Barak. Himself a former prime minister, Barak is now a politician without a party. Most of his Labour colleagues broke away from him, leaving him doomed, say the polls, to terminal oblivion at the next election.

Why, then, does Netanyahu keep him on? Because Barak’s military prowess and authority can counter the naysayers if the fateful decision on Iran needs to be made.

Of course, Netanyahu’s drum-beating is intended to ensure that moment never comes. The fear of Israel going it alone is intended to instill anxiety and urgency into international sanctions against Tehran. Sanctions, rigorously applied, can still work.

Washington is urging its allies, Australia among them, to join in a new round, targeting Iran’s banking and petrochemical industries, as well as its nuclear ambitions. The regime in Tehran is deeply unpopular and may yet implode. Netanyahu’s drum-beating is tactically impeccable.

But it’s not just tactics. The bluffer isn’t bluffing. Let’s hope Obama, Sarkozy and the rest are hearing him loud and clear.



How to Topple the Ayatollahs
Western strikes should target Tehran’s military and paramilitary forces, crippling the regime’s machinery of domestic repression.
By Prof. Jamsheed k. Choksy
The Wall Street Journal
November 23, 2011

Why, despite the growing danger posed by Iran’s nuclear program, have the United States and other nations restricted themselves to negotiations, economic sanctions and electronic intrusions? None of those tactics has been particularly effective or produced enduring changes.

The main argument against military action is that it would set Iran’s nuclear program back only a few years, and that Tehran would retaliate directly and via surrogates, drawing the U.S. into another unwinnable war. Many fear also that Iranians will rally behind their regime with nationalist fervor, dashing hope of regime change for decades and turning Iran’s largely pro-Western population against the West once again, to the mullahs’ great benefit.

These concerns are based on worst-case scenarios that assume Iran has the resources to rebuild quickly, to retaliate without being thwarted, and to get the average Iranian to rally behind a regime hated for its violent oppression of dissent, stifling social codes, economic failures and isolationist policies. Yet Iran’s government is already weakened by very public infighting between its much disliked ruling factions.

We should not conclude that a nuclear Iran is inevitable. Instead we should think about another way of confronting the threat. The real goal of air strikes should be not only to target Iran’s nuclear facilities but to cripple the ayatollahs’ ability to protect themselves from popular overthrow.

The mass uprisings in 2009 – known as the Green Revolution – have dissipated because few protesters saw any hope of mustering the force necessary to defeat the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Basij paramilitary forces who brutally enforce Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s authority. Yet dissatisfaction and resentment still run deep across all social groups and economic ranks, even among civil-service bureaucrats, rank-and-file military men, and elected officials.

This means Western air strikes should hit other military production facilities and the bases of the IRGC and Basij. A foreign takedown of those enforcers would give Iran’s population the opportunity to rise again. As a popular Tehrani female rapper notes: “No regime can hang on through intimidation and violence. We are ready and waiting. The regime thinks it has put out the fire. We are the burning coals under the ashes.”

The IRGC’s claims that it can retaliate significantly are largely bluster. The Iranian Navy’s fast boats and midget submarines in the Persian Gulf could be eliminated through pinpoint strikes, as could army artillery batteries along the Strait of Hormuz – thereby removing any threat to the region’s maritime trade, including crude oil shipments.

While the nuclear program may not be completely destroyed, sufficient damage will occur so even facilities deep underground would require several years of restoration. Most importantly, once the power of the Basij and the IRGC to enforce the regime’s will upon the people has been seriously compromised, it would not be surprising to see large segments of Iran’s population casting off the theocratic yoke.

The Libyan rebellion’s successful ouster of a 42-year dictatorial elite is but one example of successful regime change. Another is the ongoing attempt by Syrians to end a nearly half-century dictatorship. A few months ago, few would have believed those revolutions would occur. Moreover, an Iranian uprising will be directed against Islamists, not by them. Were Iran’s theocrats gravely weakened or swept away, Iran’s sponsorship of terrorists and dictatorships would come to a halt – making groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and leaders like Bashar al-Assad, Kim Jong Il and Hugo Chávez more vulnerable.

A new Iranian nation would require economic aid and political guidance – from the U.S. and Europe – to develop representational governance. That would be a worthwhile investment. Crucially, even if a post-theocratic Iranian state gradually rebuilds its military and resumes its nuclear program, the weapons would not be in the hands of a regime so hostile to much of the world.

Regime change remains the best option for defusing the ayatollahs’ nuclear threat, and it can best be achieved by the Iranian people themselves. Disabling the theocracy’s machinery of repression would leave it vulnerable to popular revolt. Through such decisive actions, the U.S. and its allies could help Iranians bring the populist uprising of 2009 to a fitting culmination.



More half-measures from Obama administration on Iran
The Washington Post
November 22, 2011

The Obama administration pledged that Iran would suffer painful consequences for plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington and for refusing to freeze its nuclear program. Key European allies and Congress – not to mention Israel – are ready for decisive action. But on Monday the administration unveiled another series of half-steps. Sanctions were toughened on Iran’s oil industry, but there was no move to block its exports. The Iranian banking system was designated “a primary money laundering concern,” a step U.S. officials said could prompt banks and companies around the world to cease doing business with the country. But the administration declined to directly sanction the central bank.

The result is that President Obama is not even leading from behind on Iran; he is simply behind. At the forefront of the Western effort to pressure Tehran is French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who issued a statement Monday calling on the European Union, the United States, Japan, Canada and “other willing countries” to “immediately freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank” and suspend purchases of Iranian oil. France rejects the Obama administration’s view that these steps would cause a counterproductive spike in oil prices. In any case, higher oil prices are preferable to allowing an Iranian bomb – or having to take military action to stop it.

Congress is ahead of Mr. Obama, too. It’s likely that large bipartisan majorities will support legislation mandating sanctions against the central bank; in the Senate’s case it could be attached to the defense authorization bill. Another comprehensive sanctions bill, targeting both Iran and its ally Syria, could be brought to the Senate floor within a couple of weeks.

The administration’s slowness to embrace crippling sanctions is one of several persistent flaws in its Iran policy. Another is its continued insistence on the possibility of “engagement” with a regime that has repeatedly rejected it while plotting murder in Washington. “The United States is committed to engagement,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asserted Monday. Some European officials say they are concerned by the concessions the administration appears prepared to offer Tehran if there are new talks.

By now it should be obvious that only regime change will stop the Iranian nuclear program. That means, at a minimum, the departure of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has repeatedly blocked efforts by other Iranian leaders to talk to the West. Sanctions that stop Iran from exporting oil and importing gasoline could deal a decisive blow to his dictatorship, which already faced an Arab Spring-like popular revolt two years ago. By holding back on such measures, the Obama administration merely makes it more likely that drastic action, such as a military attack, eventually will be taken by Israel, or forced on the United States.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.